THE gates have re-opened to one of the South of Scotland’s last great wildernesses following a community takeover.

The Ettrick Marshes, some 16 miles west of Selkirk, not only boasts unique habitats for wildlife but for around 20 years offered nature lovers an opportunity to wander through the previously inaccessible wetlands.

In recent years the tracks and boardwalks into and around the natural floodplain have fallen into a poor state through storm damage and a lack of maintenance.

But following May’s takeover by the Ettrick and Yarrow Community Development Company (EYCDC) new bridges have been built, boardwalks repaired, fallen trees cleared and pathways restored.

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Two part-time countryside rangers have also been employed.

And, according to EYCDC project manager Vicky Davidson, this is just the start.

She said: “The walk through this unique place really makes you feel peaceful and close to nature, and we want to make sure it remains a special place to visit for locals and visitors.

“Through the hard work of our rangers we have so far re-established access, and now we will look at enhancing the visitor experience even further with things such as live camera feeds of water voles and nesting birds in the Marshes.

“The Ettrick Marshes is one of the largest restored floodplain forests in the United Kingdom and it deserves to be studied properly so we hope to bring in some universities and ecological groups to do research and monitor how the habitats are changing and which species are flourishing.”

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The Ettrick Marshes were initially re-wilded as a millennium project by the Borders Forest Trust in 2000.

Sitka spruce and forestry drains were removed from the valley floor, 7000 native trees were planted, and boardwalks installed to allow visitor access.

Spread over 53 hectares, the Ettrick Marshes is home to dozens of rare birds, including reed buntings, water-rail, redshanks, long-tailed tits and siskins.

Tawny owls, ravens and buzzards can be found in the broadleaf and Scots Pine woodland which skirts the wetlands.

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And, if you are lucky, ospreys can occasionally be viewed from the two bird hides which perch above the Marshes.

The sites of two Bronze Age roundhouses are also visible from the sign-posted trail.

But over recent years many of the boardwalks had rotted and storm damage had left other parts of the trail blocked and inaccessible.

The community purchase of the 53-hectare site from Forestry and Land Scotland earlier this year, with support from the South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, has now led to the rural attraction once again welcoming visitors.

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With help from the NatureScot Better Places Green Recovery Fund, the Langhope Rig Windfarm Fund and the Folio Trust, repair materials were purchased, and two part-time countryside rangers employed.

Over the past 12 weeks the local rangers, Tommy Bryson and Mitchell Hobbs, have restored the four-mile circular nature trail through and around the Marshes.

Tommy said: “It has been an extremely busy few months, but we are now at the stage where it is safe for people to return and see for themselves what a wonderful place this is.”

As well as daily access, the countryside rangers offer guided tours of the Ettrick Marshes every Wednesday at noon – meeting in the car park next to Honey Cottage Caravan Park.

There is also a guided walk on Saturday, October 9 in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support leaving from the Tima Car Park at 10.30am. Further details of all guided walks are available from